Archive | May 2011

Four Loko: ‘Blackout in a Can’

In October 2010, a group of Central Washington University students gathered at a house with a large payload of alcoholic beverages, among them alcoholic energy drink Four Loko. Little did they know their actions would ignite a firestorm of publicity and state and college wide bans. 9 students were hospitalized with alcohol poisoning. With all fingers pointed squarely towards Four Loko, the drink was banned by the university. This was the first of many college-imposed bans on caffeinated alcoholic drinks.

Following the controversy, and the emergence of the health risks involved in mixing caffeine and alcohol, New York State banned Four Loko in December 2010. Since then a caffeine free Loko has hit the streets, reappearing in bodegas all over Manhattan in March 2011. While lawmakers and parents can breathe a little easier not everyone is happy with the new drink.

“I hated the new Four Loko,” said Rachel Romero, 21, a senior year student from Florida International University. “I considered walking back in and returning it.”

The drink comes in an array of flavors, from Fruit Punch to Cranberry Lemonade. Each can is packaged in a design resembling neon army fatigues. The liquid is almost as brightly colored as the can it comes in. And the taste? It felt as if a large Jolly Rancher were marinated in a tub of alcohol, and then compressed into a can. At first the synthetic sugary flavor will deceive you into thinking its harmless. Then comes the aftertaste. Bitter and, if had in large gulps, gag inducing. There is no hidden agenda behind Four Loko. The drink is not popular because of it’s taste, but because it is cheap and intoxicates drinkers fast.

“Part of the attraction was the cheap drunk,” explained an NYU junior, who declined to state his name. “It would get you wasted really fast and for two bucks fifty. I found the new one to be much weaker, it was just like having any old beer.”

The Food and Drug Administration began a review of caffeinated alcoholic drinks in November of 2009 after complaints from officials in several states such as New York and Washington. Following numerous cases, more than 20 at Ramapo College, NJ, alone, of alcohol poisoning on campuses across the country, the FDA issued a warning letter to Phusion Projects, the maker of Four Loko. Soon after New York’s State Liquor Authority reached an agreement with the state’s biggest beer distributors to stop delivering Four Loko beginning the 10th of December, 2010. In a statement released by the SLA, beer distributors “voluntarily agreed to stop selling malt beverages that contain caffeine and other stimulants.”

The use of caffeine in alcoholic substances is not FDA sanctioned. Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, a substance added intentionally to food (such as caffeine in alcoholic beverages) is deemed “unsafe” and is unlawful unless its particular use has been approved by FDA regulation. The agreement states that this is because the “combined ingestion of caffeine and alcohol may lead to hazardous and life-threatening situations because caffeine counteracts some, but not all, of alcohol’s adverse effects.”

“What we must understand is that according to the law the food or beverage manufacturer has the primary responsibility for ensuring that a product is safe,” wrote Douglas Karas, an FDA spokesperson, via email. “They should only use approved food additives in their drinks. We asked for scientific data [to prove caffeine and alcohol together are safe] that could be generally accepted by experts – and they [Four Loko] did not meet our burden of proof.” When asked why the drink was allowed out into the market in the first place Mr. Karas explained, “The law does not require that a beverage manufacturer submit their products to the FDA before they market them.”

Numerous attempts were made to contact Phusion Projects. While the company did respond, officials declined to comment on the ban.

A study by the University of Florida backed the FDA’s claims that caffeinated alcoholic drinks were unsafe. The study found that students who mixed caffeine and alcohol think they are capable of drinking more total alcohol than those who drank non-caffeinated alcoholic drinks. Steven Kipnis, Medical Director at the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Servies, referred to his organization’s message to national universities and colleges. The two-page document explains that drinkers of caffeinated alcoholic drinks are more likely to binge drink. The same document states “binge drinking is responsible for approximately 40,000 deaths annually and is common among 18‐24 year‐olds.”

Regardless, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noticed rapid growth in the popularity of caffeinated alcoholic drinks. Two leading brands of CABs together experienced a 67-fold increase in sales; from 337,500 gallons in 2002 to 22,905,000 gallons in 2008.

The drinks were popular because the combination of caffeine and alcohol, however dangerous, was effective. Ever since Four Loko removed caffeine from their drinks bodega owners have noticed a steady decline in sales. The owner of Robin Raj Discount, on 14th street, said “it was selling lots, and then suddenly gone, finished, no one buys [Four Loko] anymore.” A similar reaction was drawn from the man behind the counter at Gourmet Deli, located on 23rd street who agreed that “no one is interested” in the new Loko.

Steve Shami, a student from Fordham University, casually flicked his fingers back and forth between two cans of Loko, eventually deciding on the Watermelon flavor. He laughed when told Four Loko was once popularly described by the media as ‘Blackout in a Can.’

“As a typical college student who likes to do a solid amount of drinking, that nickname seems more like a marketing ploy than anything that’s going to stop me from purchasing the product.”

CB3 Meeting

With the opening of the 9/11 Memorial to happen in September this year, concerns were raised over traffic and sidewalk congestion in Lower Manhattan, prompting Community Board 3 to vote in favor of charging charter buses a parking fee.

After nearly two hours of discussion with officials from the Department of Transportation, CB 3 committee members voted 4-0 in favor of charging charter tour buses for parking in their district. CB 3 covers the Lower East Side and Chinatown.

“The Department of Transportation is in the process of implementing a metered bus parking policy in CB 1 (where the 9/11 Memorial is located) and would like to extend the offer to CB 3”, explained Josh Crouse, a DOT representative.

Metered parking would force buses to pay up or leave the area, a strategy aimed at clearing the congestion in the area around ground zero. Charter buses trying to find free parking could possibly leave CB 1 and come to CB 3.

There was a clash between DOT official Juan Sanchez and CB 3’s District Manager Susan Stetzer over metered parking rates for buses. Ms. Stetzer raised concerns about pricing the buses stating as this was a new policy they did not know how much to charge. Mr. Sanchez acknowledged this was merely a pilot policy that had not yet determined fixed rates.

David Crane, Chair of the CB 3 Transportation committee, was in favor of the metered bus parking policy. He resolved the parking issue by explaining to the 30 people in front of him that, “it needs to be priced just right. High enough to have vacancy in the residential areas otherwise its not going to help our community.”

Traffic congestion has always been a problem in Lower Manhattan. With the near completion of the 9/11 Memorial, CB 3 decided to take early action in attempting to keep their streets as clear as possible by accepting the DOT’s policy. A decision clearly endorsed by the public.

“I wholeheartedly support charging buses parking fees”, said Zak, a NY resident who lives on the corner of 2nd and Bowery, “but we have to be careful. If we price too low we’re stuck with them (tour buses) glued to our sidewalks, and if we price too high we scare tourists away!”

Shake Shack!

Sitting in Madison Square Park and enjoying the company of fellow New Yorkers under the watchful eye of the titans that are the Metlife building, One Madison Park and the Flatiron building, has become a daily routine for many residents in the Gramercy area, after the park’s renovation in 2001. However there is one building that catches the eye more than these impressive skyscrapers- the Shake Shack.

A small, eco friendly restaurant situated by an entrance, just inside the park, Shake Shack does not look out of place. Having the most envied location of all eateries in the area, the Shack has been churning out its signature Shackburger, Chicago-style hotdogs and cheese fries, all whilst giving Gramercy residents, new comers and tourists some space to relax and enjoy their meals.

Brandon, 20, a student from the New School, felt the location was excellent, saying, “I could sit here for one and a half hours, not having any food and still enjoy myself.” While sitting under the umbrella heaters provided by the Shack, and enjoying his vanilla shake and cheese fries, Brandon did stress that he came here for the food, but with the décor being Madison Square Park, “its hard to say no” to Shake Shack. Lee, 20, a student from NYU mentioned that, “I can see the shack from anywhere in the park.” Madhuri, 19, said that she imagined the popularity of the shack would sky rocket in the summer.

Shake Shack opened in 2004 under the guidance of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group. An instant success the New York Magazine named it Best Burger in 2005. It went on to win numerous awards and expand to other parts of New York. In 2010 the first Shake Shack outside of New York opened in Miami, with two more planning on being unveiled in Saratoga Springs and Kuwait. SITE, an architectural and environmental design firm designed the first Shack in Madison Square Park.

The NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, after looking over the construction and sustainability plans, gave the Shack a permit in 2004 allowing it to be built in the park. This public record could not be accessed, and the Shake Shack offices declined to comment on its whereabouts.

The location of the Shack gives it an edge over its competitors in the area claims Jimmy, 35, who works at Press, across the street from Madison Square Park. “There are a lot of offices around and during lunchtime there is a lot of food traffic in the park.” Jimmy went on to say that there is enough business for everyone, but the Shack reaps the most rewards. The manager at NY Burger Co. did not comment, saying he was not at liberty to discuss the business or it’s competitors.

The Shack is famous for its food and location, but with such popularity they run the risk of losing customers due to the long lines they rack up. As he waited at Fresh and Fast Burgers for his order, Mohamed, 34, said that the location might be an advantage but, “I come here because the lines are too long.”

Essex Street Market

Among the thousands of candy corners in New York City, Roni-Sues’s Chocolates has been churning out innovative chocolate treats for nearly 30 years.

Located at Essex Street Market, Roni-Sue’s offers a wide array of chocolate goodies, many of which are unheard of in other parts of the city. Blending meats and chocolate the store appeals to a wide range of food fanatics. Some of their best sellers include Pig Candy (or chocolate covered bacon!) and Maple/Bacon Lollipops.

Rhonda Kave, storeowner and chocolatiere, has always been a gifted cook. Mrs. Kave first worked at a beauty supply shop, an experience she said helped her learn the business side of things. She was approached to start a store several times. After doing 10 years of social work, and having two children, she finally decided to start the store because “the time was right.”

The Butter Crunch candy is one of the store’s most popular. Its rich aroma has one salivating before it even touches the tongue. Crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, it melts in the mouth with a blast of chocolaty goodness. It is easy to see why the store has such a loyal following.

As Mrs. Kave proudly spoke about one of her most popular candies soft Spanish music filled the air. A small, homely market, Essex Street was the perfect location for the little chocolate shoppe. The vendors greeted all with consummate ease. Each and every storeowner seemed to know the other.

Mrs. Kave certainly valued the opinion of her daily companions. When asked where she got the idea for her meaty chocolaty concoctions, Mrs. Kave smiled, looked across at the meat vendors flanking her stall and said, “while talking to a vendor at the market.”

Wine on Valentine’s

Wine sales during Valentine’s Day on the Upper West Side have declined, with the holiday not being able to compete with traditional family holidays, such as Christmas, and neither storeowners nor customers expecting a boost in sales.

While wine is traditionally a big seller around Christmas and Thanksgiving, it has suffered on Valentine’s Day. Large amounts are bought on holidays involving many friends and family, but when someone wants to have an intimate dinner, purchasing one or two bottles is the norm.

“Most purchases [on Valentine’s Day] are rushed and last minute,” said Nancy Maniscalco, owner of Nancy’s Wines located on the Upper West Side. “At the most they will buy one or two bottles of red and, maybe, some pink wine.”

While many customers admitted to enjoying the occasional glass of wine, few were actually purchasing anything for Valentine’s Day itself. A young man, who lives in the West Village, standing outside Nancy’s, stated, “Sure I like wine, but I’m not going to get anything for Monday [Valentine’s]. I’d rather just take her out for a movie than have to do the romantic dinner thing.”

Though Valentine’s Day is not the best day for sales, wine has traditionally done well during the holidays. According to the wine magazine Decanter, despite the looming recession in 2007, the US wine market swelled to an estimated $30 billion. The wine markets value rose by 8 percent, leaving the nation on the verge of overtaking France and Italy in terms of volume. In 2010 the Wine Business Monthly reported seeing a 6 percent bump in wine sales during the holiday season.

H. Tres Meyer, proprietor of the wine store Pour, has done his best to push his product on Valentine’s Day. The walls of his store were adorned with decorations. Champagne and pink wine, Pour’s best sellers, were placed on the front rack with special Valentine’s deals- ‘Bubbles [champagne] & Jacques Torres [chocolate]’ in gift baskets.

Calling it a busy day for his store, Mr. Meyer said that the customers on Valentine’s were mostly his regulars. His rationale was people don’t want to take a risk on a new store when they are shopping at the last minute, as many people do on Valentine’s Day.

Sales clerk Peter Button, who is from the Central Bronx and works at Pour, said, “What you find now is that the same number of bottles are going out the door, but at a lower price per bottle.” Hearing this Mr. Meyer immediately stepped forward, refused to discuss sales further and asserted that he ran a “very profitable business.”

Though most customers agreed that wine, being a luxury good, is hard to buy on a regular basis, many still partake just because it’s a day of celebration. Sidharth, visiting from London, did not plan to celebrate with wine on Valentine’s, saying his girlfriend would rather he “buy her something [more] expensive” than a glass of red wine. He purchased two bottles of red wine for himself as he spoke.

“I enjoy a glass of red wine as and when I can afford it!” exclaimed Jeremy, 23, a student from New York with a sardonic smile on his face. “I’ll buy a bottle for Valentine’s Day whether I have a date or not. People treat themselves for holidays.”